Last week’s news with the sports complex created much confusion. One reader surmised the project was dead as a result of what was reported. This would be wrong, but the misperception is understandable because of the November referendum on the sports complex and the fact the Worcester County Commissioners opted last week to remove the $11 million in development funds for the project from a series of planned bond bills. Additionally, the county decided last week to spend $28,000 on a consultant to evaluate whether a Route 50 entrance and exit would be allowed on the identified sports complex site, which is located just west of Stephen Decatur high and middle schools south of Route 50 and north of Flower Street. The county also reviewed last week an environmental report that found no major issues with the property eyed for the development.
In an attempt to clear up confusion, the bottom line is the county is still moving ahead with preliminary planning for a sports complex on the property. However, the funds for the acquisition of the property and development of the complex have not been identified. The county was planning to finance the property development expenses through a bond until the sports complex was successfully petitioned to referendum. There remain many questions to the sports complex and its future, but as of now the county is continuing to proceed with its due diligence with a contract on the property likely headed toward an extension during this evaluation process.
In the meantime, despite the county removing project funding from a bond bill, county voters will still be asked this fall to express their opinion on the sports complex concept. The specific wording of the referendum before voters in November is, “The purpose of this question is to determine whether the County Commissioners may finance a portion of the costs of designing and constructing a Worcester County Sports Complex by issuing a bond.” Voters will be asked to decide if they are “for” or “against” the bond issuance.
The specific wording of the referendum is important. If a majority of county voters say they do not want their officials to finance the sports complex development, the commissioners could still move ahead with the project. The county would simply need to find an alternative funding source, but among the biggest questions is whether the votes will be there to proceed with the project once the new set of commissioners are sworn into office after the election.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan’s veto of the stacked parking ordinance confirms his passionate opposition to the change. Last week’s veto was only the second time he has exercised his veto in his 16-year run as mayor.
Meehan last utilized his mayoral veto power in 2011 when he vetoed seven ordinances aimed at decreasing employee pay and benefits. Those ordinances were ultimately rejected because there were three council members who voted against them on earlier readings. In 2013, Meehan promised he would veto any further attempts at expanding paid parking in Ocean City after a plan to add parking meters to streets in north Ocean City as well as downtown was successfully petitioned. At the time, he said, “As long as I am the mayor of Ocean City, I am going to object to any more parking meters on city streets. Unless there are six votes to override a mayoral veto, I don’t think you are going to see parking meters on the streets. I hope we continue to look at our city lots, and other ways, not just parking meters to reduce costs and to increase revenues where they are palatable and where they are necessary.”
Last week’s veto of the ordinance allowing stacked, or tandem, parking through a valet parking system was not a major surprise. I initially felt like the veto move may have been merely symbolic because only Council President Matt James voted against the parking ordinance created for the Margaritaville property on first and second reading. Meehan said that was not the case this week, saying, “I believe there will be council members who will vote to sustain the veto. I didn’t intend this to be symbolic. I wouldn’t have done it if so. As it’s written, I don’t believe this ordinance is what we want for Ocean City moving forward. There are unintended consequences to this and the ordinance makes tandem parking allowed by right. It provides increased density, and I don’t think that’s what Ocean City citizens want for our town.”
For his part, James, who sets the agenda for the council meetings, said this week the council will likely revisit the ordinance vote and the mayor’s veto next month. James said if the veto gains the critical second vote to sustain it the developer may have to alter the current plans in order to gain approval for the project. James said, “The disapproved ordinance will likely be scheduled for a vote at a council meeting in September and will need six favorable votes from the council to override the mayor’s veto. Since this project has been overdeveloped, they will need some variation of tandem parking or the developer will need to reduce the number of hotel rooms that are being proposed in order to make it code compliant.” James said while the ordinance is not project-specific, it has its roots in the planned Margaritaville project. He said, “The town knows that this neighborhood is already parking deficient and it’s my opinion that this project will make things much worse if it moves forward as proposed.”